Guide to Deconversion (Part 2): Types of Believers

Part 1: How to Come Out (and Why!)

Part 3: Types of Atheists

In my time as an atheist, I’ve learned quite a few things about the entire deconversion process.  Once you are out, and especially if you go vocal on Facebook and/or live in the Bible Belt (or were at all involved in churches), various believers will react to you in different ways.  To that end, I wanted to create a sort of catalog of believers’ reactions that many of us experience.  Many of these stereotypes are focused on Facebook conversations, but also spill over into the real world.

For the Theists that read my blog, I apologize if I offend, but this guide is written towards people who are deconverting, and you may not fit into any of these generalized categories, nor be okay with the labels attached. Feel free to critique my assessment in the comments section.

1. The Watchers

There will be quite a few of your friends who have never gone beyond a ‘faith-walker’ status, who will believe whatever any pastor or parent tells them.  They may not possess the critical-thinking abilities to see the gaping intellectual inconsistencies in theism, and therefore are generally incapable of understanding your deconversion.  However, they also probably won’t engage you in discussion, and will merely stand by and watch.

There are also those whose faith is so shallow that they are incapable of enduring any sort of perceived threat to it.  Though talking about your atheism may hardly count as a challenge in your eyes, remember they may not have the tools you had at your disposal to rationalize objections.  They might defriend you, stop receiving updates, or ignore you out in public, and that’s fine.  These people often adhere to the anti-woman, bigoted, shallow views of human rights and social issues, and use their infantile faith as a cover for their bigotry.

Many people are incapable of realizing the freedom that atheism offers, for whatever reason, and there are quite a few reasons we humans have been inventing religions ever since we first existed on the Savannahs of Africa.  There is no shame in this, since it is a fact of life, and indoctrination can be a very powerful thing.

Dealing with the Watchers

Don’t worry about them.  If they ever grow to a point where they might join you in freedom, then they’ll be the one to get in touch with you.  Don’t be offended over their leaving or defriending; this isn’t personal, it is usually that they are incapable of seeing your updates and maintaining their faith.

My personal M.O. is to never comment directly on someone else’s Facebook status, unless it is so egregious as to warrant the permanent loss of their friendship.  To that end, I don’t directly force my views on them, and I never initiate conversation on the topic directly unless asked.  This avoids the “you’re forcing your beliefs on everyone else” argument, as anyone at any time is free to ignore what we have to say.

2. The Victim

Your deconversion is about them, not you.  These people are similar to watchers who defriend, but make it explicitly clear that it’s your fault, and your actions caused them irrevocable harm.  This is a manipulation and coping tactic that cannot be endorsed and must be met head-on.  From wikipedia,

Manipulators often play the victim role (“poor me”) by portraying themselves as victims of circumstances or someone else’s behavior in order to gain pity or sympathy or to evoke compassion and thereby get something from another.

As I identified in part 1, my father falls into this category.  Vicims often react with a hypocritical bravado of religious showiness to combat the cognitive dissonance their self-appointed blame generates.  Thus, they become even more pious, rather than actually seek to resolve their cognitive dissonance.

Dealing with Victims

From a human standpoint, identify the fact that you are an autonomous agent, and your decisions do not affect them in the slightest unless they want it to.  From a biblical standpoint, identify that God is ultimately in charge of who get in and who gets out, not them.  From a practical standpoint, ignore them.  There may be underlying psychological issues that are affecting them that need to be fixed before they can engage you as anything more than an agent for scratching their validation itch.

3. The Social Justice

There are quite a few progressive Christians out there today that realize the mysoginistic ways of the Bible are not necessarily the best thing ever, but may not be ready or willing to deconvert.  If you post on social justice issues, such as Homosexual Bigotry, feminism, or other social justice issues that are currently in flux, they may be inclined to agree and defend your position.  I used to hate these people (as a fundamentalist), but have come to love them; they are simply cherry picking the better bits of the bible (rather than just some of the good bits that GOP-style fundamentalists pick).

Dealing with the Social Justice

Remember that not everyone is against you on everything just because you’re an atheist.  We can still work together for a better world one step at a time, hand in hand with believers.  Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Christian, but didn’t believe in the Resurrection of Christ or the Virgin Birth.  He certainly worked alongside atheists for the cause, and its okay that religion changes to fit social issues.  50 years from now, we will tell our children about Socialized Medicine, Gay Marriage, and the War on Contraception, and they won’t believe us, because by then the bible will have said it all along.

4. The Hit-And-Run Theists

After coming out, there will most likely be a few people in your life that will attempt to convince you that your decision was woefully short-sighted, but aren’t really interested in discussing why.  These people operate like snipers: They take a few shots then flee the scene, in order to not be nailed down on any particular they may have said, or leave up a wall of text (pictured left, link) with nothing more than inconsistent ramblings denoting a firm lack of research, concern, or engagement.

These people usually have absolutely no relationship with you, or they imagine that they do.  It may be a distant relative, a very old friend, or some other person otherwise uninvolved and unaware of anything leading up to your deconversion.  Nor are they interested in these things.

On several occasions, conversations which began as a hit-and-run attempts turned into meaningful ignorance-killing discussions.  What may be initiated on a pretense of running, when called out may result in learning and discussion.  Ignorance is not a crime, and should not be treated with contempt.  Slander, hatred, or bullying (you’re going to hell), however, should be treated on different terms.

How to deal with Hit-And-Run Theists

Depending on your relationship with these people, ignoring them or using them as fodder for pointing out inconsistencies in traditional theistic logic are two good strategies.  I wouldn’t recommend taking anything they have to say seriously, or expecting them to take anything you have to say seriously.  They are not interested in you, in truth, or in arriving there; they want to self-congratulate themselves for pointing you back in the right direction, and it certainly isn’t  their fault for spreading ‘truth’ and then you making up your damned mind to ignore the beautiful wisdom they shared.

Keep in mind, however, that one of the most beneficial things for atheists (and people) in general is a dissemination of information to people who are ignorant.  Taking the time to engage people who still say a lot of nothing can be beneficial if they’re willing to learn, and even if they’re not, perhaps someone who’s reading is.

5. The Heady Theist

Often people who care about truth are capable of actual substantial discussion on the topic of God.  These include people who have researched other religions, or are familiar with critical thinking and logic.  They don’t judge, they don’t get angry or bent out of shape when you disagree, they evaluate and converse.

Every so often I have met people like this, and we have a blast.  I learn about myself, my shortcomings, and gain respect for the other side.  Thus, these theists allow the same thing to occur in a deconvert as what should happen with theists: a mutual respect despite wildly conflicting beliefs.

How to deal with Heady Theists

Sometimes you aren’t in the mood to talk theology, sometimes they aren’t.  Be sure to be up front if you aren’t in the mood to defend yourself (much like described in Part 1), and don’t push them away with a constant badgering or exploitation of their mind.  Have as much respect for them as they show you.  Beyond that, Heady Theists help you to learn about your own beliefs, and are also the most likely to join you in freedom .  For that reason, I highly encourage meeting with them repeatedly, learning and engaging them, and seeking freedom for them.

Don’t monopolize, however, as these are often leaders in various church groups, and may have  commitments to the people they already agree with.

6. The True Friends

When you deconvert, there might just be a few people who stick around through it.  They can separate what you believe from loving you and being there for you.  I was fortunate enough to have two members from my bible study that I still count as true friends, that are there for me and I them.

You might have a few conversations about God and whatnot with them, you might not, depending on how open minded they are.  Keep in mind that theism is a gateway belief to compartmentalization, so they may very well believe you are going to hell, but not act like it in any significant way.

How to deal with True Friends

Keep them! Why not? There are times to be combative, and times not to be, but there’s nothing wrong with someone seeing you through a huge life change and still coming out and hanging around on the other side of it.  Let them set the terms of discussion, and be clear if you do or don’t want to talk about reasons for your deconversion.  They might understand your change the best, and they can often provide valuable insight into your own missteps or problems.

7. The Apologist

Fuck these wastes of consciousness. These people are not worth the air they breathe, but by an unfortunate cosmic accident were given the ability to live and interact with you.  These are inhuman weasels who care nothing about you, your life, your past, your mind, your reasons, your friendships, your beliefs, your parents, your future or seeking the truth.  They want a fucking notch on their bedpost of you ‘coming back to the fold’ and will use any and all means necessary to achieve this, including deliberate falsehood, emotional appeals and manipulation, rhetorical tricks, gish gallops, and personal attack.

I say these things because you need to have your guard up against these shits.  They aren’t interested in truth; they have started with their conclusion, and damned if you aren’t already wrong.  They don’t do discussion: they do debate, and want to go for ‘points’ rather than knowledge.  The video below is a recording from Dr. Robert Price debating Dr. William Lane Craig, one of the world’s foremost Christian apologists.

How to deal with Apologists

Do not respect them. Do not expect them to respect you.  Treat them as a violent animal, with distance and contempt.  These are not the same as a Heady Theist, who cares about and evaluates what you have to say; they are only interested in the end goal, and have started from their conclusion.  If you give them any emotional vulnerability or trust, they will seek to manipulate this into a scoring point for them, to make you feel like shit for your legitimate and more honest choice.

If you encounter them in real life, agree to a formal debate or speak with zero emotional investment.  Identify their fallacies and attempts at manipulation while it is happening.  Don’t give them respect, don’t give them the upper hand.  The reason I am an anti-theist is because of a street-preaching apologist who hammered me the moment I gave him any sort of emotional vulnerability. Don’t make my mistake.

If on facebook, do the same thing.  Identify their circularity, identify emotional appeals, and point out that you aren’t into debating; you’re into discussing truth and seeking it out (unless you are, then go for it.  But in that case it might should be formalized).  Remember these are not people, they are machines who are seeking to manipulate you into being backed into a corner.  Don’t be, and don’t give ground.

Conclusion

In summary, change the way you react to people based on the person they are.  These are very general categories, and might not reflect what you experience.  If you have questions about a specific type, leave it in the comments section, or if you have interacted with these people before.

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  • Ryan

    I like this kind of typology and it’s quite a good one! I don’t find it offensive at all and it has a certain internal logic in that the only people to find it offensive are the apologists who deserve it.

  • http://bittersweetend.wordpress.com/ Marcus

    kind of harsh on the apologist, huh

    • Guest.

      The apologists pretty much always operate in bad faith.

  • Ladycopper5

    Hmm, I thought I would be classified an apologist but I guess I was a Heady Theist, because I did more listening than talking even though I used to study all kinds of AiG stuff. Hehe, all that listening sure can be dangerous… So far I deal with Watchers, True Friends, and Headys, but most people don’t know about my deconversion yet, only the close ones.

    • http://CoffeeShopAtheist.com/blog Patrick

      The line in the sand is whether you value truth over your most cherished beliefs. I find that many apologists don’t actually value truth, but only use it as a notion for a means to an end.

  • http://www.facebook.com/RegTed Reginald Ted Diaz Santiago

    I was a bit surprised at the last part of your article. You started your points with rationality and reservation but you ended it with unquestionable emotion-stained convictions.

    As much as I like your guide-to-deconversion and as much as I think the typology of believers is accurate, I have to comment on your approach to apologists. I am also one of those “long-time christians who deconverted” and may I tell you that your approach to this group is a bit harsh, stained with ad hominem, and full of hasty generalizations.

    I do get your point that many apologists have the tendency to be arrogant and conceited on their way of arguing but let me remind you that what they are fighting for is not always heavily based on egocentric drives. Sometimes, they are just ardently fighting for what they think and feel is right.

    I partially agree on your description to them but I don’t think the “they are waste of consciousness… inhumane vessels ” and the “do not respect them” approach is not the reasonable way to deal with them. Ignoring them and staying rational is the best way to deal with them. And then maybe, if you catch them intellectually off-guard, expose their fallacious arguments and try to offer (not impose) an alternative hypothesis. They might aggressively reject your offer but at least you stayed reasonable and you have shown other people who has more credibility.

    I deconverted so that I may be able to widen my perspective, and to expand my morality circle so I can include everyone in the picture. I deconverted not only because I want to experience freedom and life more, but also to live a life of virtue, compassion, and happiness while trying to manifest what I’ve learned by being careful and critical with my thoughts, with my words, and with my actions.

    I wish the author the best and may he or she read this and re-evaluate his or her article. Please do so. If you want to invite undecided people to our side, then do it without “dehumanizing” other parties.

    Thank you and have a good day, sir/ma’am. Also, I apologize for the block of text I just posted.

    • highschoolatheist

      Reginald Ted Diaz Santiago has a point that some apologists really do operate with what they think are “good intentions” e.g. so that you can reconvert and “get into heaven” (because they really do believe this). However, at the end of it all, I have to agree with what the author of this article said: that apologists don’t really care about truth and that you should treat them with hostility and caution.

      I’m a 17 year old atheist and I go to a Christian school. I’ve been an atheist since I was 14. Previously I was a Protestant and before that my family was Buddhist. I deconverted because, to put it simply: I realized how stupid it was. I have never really faced any outright persecution despite my circumstances. However, I do have a story about a pastor who speaks regularly at my school.

      My school has compulsory chapel times which everyone, Christian or not, is required to attend. This pastor recently started a discussion group for non-Christians, and at first I thought it was great because the non-believing students were finally going to be given a chance to have an outlet to share and discuss their “non-beliefs”, but I was wrong. Initially I perceived this pastor to be a “Heady Theist”, but after spending one hour every week with him in what he said was supposed to be “fair and open; no-prejudices-allowed” discussions, I realized he was actually a demanding, forceful, prejudiced, narrow-minded apologist. And the saddest thing is he frequently preaches to the students at my school, and obviously they blindly and happily listen to him and agree with him.

      So eventhough I believe Reginald Ted Diaz Santiago has a good point, I will still have to agree with how the author said to deal with the “Apologists”. Because if you start out by treating them fairly and with respect (like how I treated this pastor), they will end up screwing you over and stepping on you. Some people use the Golden Rule, which incidentally, is from the Bible: “Do unto others what you wish them to do unto you.” Which translates to: “Don’t be mean to others if you don’t want them to be mean to you.” The word “mean” here can be taken out and replaced with other negative adjectives. However, I have to say that in reality, this “worldview” is very naive. Do not expect to be treated with equal respect by these “Apologists”. They may be stupid, but they are definitely not naive. This is not the first time this shit has happened to me and my atheist/agnostic friends. The Apologists start out great–they wear some sort of do-gooder Samaritan mask and invite people in by pretending to be open-minded and intellectual, and then BAM! They reveal their true face. And it is an ugly face indeed.

      • http://www.facebook.com/RegTed Reginald Ted Diaz Santiago

        Thank you for reply. We’re actually on the same boat (I’ve attended a catholic school since second grade up until high school and I was really a devout). And I think it was a good thing I had the chance to be exposed on such environments so I can make the most impartial decisions and conclusion regarding my beliefs or non-belief.

        Anyway, I also agree that apologists may be pretentious and they might try to act like they sincerely care but, yes, in reality, they can be passively aggressive… or just plain aggressive. But my point on posting such lengthy comment is just to tell people that reacting to them with hostility and aggressiveness is not the best way. Don’t fight fire with fire.

        “Do not respect them. Do not expect them to respect you. Treat them as a violent animal, with distance and contempt”

        Well yea. I certainly do no expect any respect coming from them but that doesn’t compel me to treat them as a violent animal; they’re still human beings! I don’t expect a fair game but I won’t stop being fair. And neither would I approach them with contempt (Maybe with distance but not with disgust and anger). Yes, I know that the author is probably using hyperbole just to add impact to his writing but I just don’t want to further escalate the conflict between the two parties.

        This is the reason why we have secularism – freedom of religion and freedom away from it. As long as they do not cross the boundaries set up by secularism and legislation, then we have no choice but to grow mutual respect between the two groups – with increasing tolerance and humanism. Let’s just maintain space and expand our patience. But if they do cross the line, that’s the time to act.

        PS: I think you’ll like this video: [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kAIpRRZvnJg]. Also check out his channel (TheraminTrees) and also his brother (QualiaSoup). They both have lots of awesome videos about Atheism/other forms of non-belief, and also about logical thinking & critical analysis. Kudos to you, fellow non-believer. Our numbers are growing and I can see that the world is slowly shifting from the old world of religious-dogmatic order to a new world of compassion and intellectual integrity.

    • http://CoffeeShopAtheist.com/blog Patrick

      I feel like I need to respond to this, since I have received several comments through various channels about this section.

      The line between heady theist and apologist is dilleniated between people who care about loving others and truth first, rather than convert people to believing at all costs to friendship, integrity, and morality. If you care more about loving people rather than “converting” them even if it costs your friendship, or even loving them through talking respectfully through their theology, then you don’t fall into this class of people.

      I stand by what I said, and the reason I used harsh language was to prepare nonbelievers for the inevitible person who gives absolutely no care to the shady line of emotional manipulation, lying, deceit, half-truths, and what I would consider evil, just to convert someone. This is a guide written for non-believers, so perhaps it would be difficult to understand from a theistic perspective. The atheist corrolary to an apologist would be perhaps a child who has believing parents that constantly brings up the fact that they believe he is going to hell, shames them, and attempts to emotionally violate them consistently just to get a ‘rise’ out of them.

      I stand by what I said. I do not think that people who are only out to ‘convert’ deserve any respect. There is, of course, no way of knowing whether someone is in the ‘heady theist’ category or ‘apologist’ category. Of course give someone you don’t know the respect of being human, but the moment at which I find someone is more concerned about ‘points’ than about respecting me is the point at which I stop respecting them. The same is true of most human interaction in general; if you feel as though someone is talking past you, respect is lost, regardless of the subject.

      My goal in the apologist section is to help ensure that emotional manipulation does not occur because a well-meaning atheist or agnostic lets their guard down, such that people are reserved and should not expect to be treated fairly. There are plenty of people who study apologetics, but don’t forsake empathy for another notch on the bedpost of converts, and I would put these in the ‘heady theist’ category.

  • http://devangelize.me/ Kate

    Apologists turn me off to Christianity more than any other type. It’s rare that I finish a “debate” with one and not want to punch him/her. I don’t even believe in apologetics or theology as true disciplines anyway, so the conversations are massive wastes of time.

  • http://hieotytymbw.blogspot.com/ Will

    When I was a Christian I was probably a heady/watcher combination, as opposing as that may seem.

    I find a lot of people online that I meet act like heady theists but turn out to be apologists on closer investigation and dialogue.

  • Guest

    Before holistility with the apologists, I’d suggest avoid at all costs as the best reaction.